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Hack-a-Shaq strategy is a way to cope

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The suddenly controversial Hack-a-Shaq defensive technique isn't just about doing what makes more sense statistically.

It's about frustration.

First, though, let's do the math: If Shaquille O'Neal gets the ball 100 times in the paint and shoots it every time and makes 55 percent — which is his shooting percentage this season —- he'll wind up scoring 110 points on those 100 possessions.

If, on the other hand, you put O'Neal on the line on each of those possessions, the 50 percent foul shooter will make 100 of 200 free throws, for 100 points on 100 possessions.

That's a 10-point difference, and any coach in the league would foul his closest relative to start off a game with a 10-point advantage.

Shaq doesn't want to get hacked? He should learn to make a free throw.

One might argue that the advantage gained in points is hardly worth getting all your players in foul trouble.

Which is why, ultimately, it's not just about points. It's about making your players feel they have some defense against the most powerful force in the NBA.

Any good coach knows that if you let Shaq have his way in the paint, if you let him use his massive girth — some estimates have him at 350 pounds — to back you under the basket, if you allow him free rein to lower the shoulder and bull to the hoop, you've lost.

He not only will roll over you, he will make you feel helpless, hopeless and defeated.

Thus, the Hack-a-Shaq. It not only puts O'Neal on the line, where he is less of a scoring threat, it sometimes gets under his skin. And the only way to attack Shaq is to go at his head, not his bulk.

Now, Shaq's problem seems to be objecting to hard fouls. But he has created his own monster. He's so big, and he's allowed to get away with so much offensive contact, that refs aren't going to blow a whistle every time someone touches him.

Officials have unofficially said, "You want to knock people around in the lane, fine. But don't expect a whistle when someone slaps your hand while you're dunking on their bean."

Besides, if you don't foul Shaq hard, he doesn't even notice.

"You can't hit him softly because he's just going to flick you off like a little fly," said Bulls center Brad Miller. "Just to bump him is doing nothing. You've got to wrap him up and put him on the free throw line."

(Granted, there are unacceptable extremes in hard fouls. You need only watch career thug Charles Oakley play a couple games to find an example.)

What's hard to understand is why O'Neal takes extreme offense to being hacked. He should feel honored.

Nobody hacks a nobody.

Just ask Wilt Chamberlain. The single most dominant player of his era, Chamberlain —- if he were alive — would no doubt laugh heartily at Shaq's complaints.

Last season, O'Neal attempted 972 free throws, by far the most of his career.

During the 1961-62 season, when Chamberlain set a longstanding record by averaging 50.4 points a game, he attempted 1,363 free throws.

In six of his 14 seasons, Chamberlain launched more free-throw attempts than O'Neal did last season.

Why did Chamberlain get so many foul shots? Two reasons: opponent frustration and the fact he was a career 51-percent foul shooter.

All O'Neal needs to do to make the Hack-a-Shaq obsolete is become a 75-percent free-throw shooter. He'll still get the occasional frustration hack — much like Karl Malone does when he comes up against an overmatched power forward — but it will seem like a walk in the park compared to what he gets now.

Or compared to what Wilt got.

E-mail: rich@desnews.com